As long as you check the clothing label and use the appropriate heat settings you should be safe. But what if you did all that and the garment still shrunk? This article explores all the possible reasons as well as solutions.
Does Ironing Shrink Clothes?
No. Washing natural fibers like wool and cotton too hot, or over-drying them in the dryer, causes them to shrink. Ironing with steam is similar to the process used to stretch out natural fibers in the first place, so if anything, ironing is somewhat of a solution to the problem.
Steam relaxes the weaved fibers and allows them to stretch out.
Can Ironing Unshrink Clothes?
It might… if the shrinking is caused by a washing machine tumbling and compressing the natural fibers into their original “curled up” state, OR by drying them out too much in the dryer. Simply soak/wash the garment in lukewarm water and fabric softener followed by ironing the with the aim of stretching the fabric out.
This is not a guarantee since each garment is made up of different combinations of fibers and the cause of the shrinking can be quite varied… but it’s certainly well worth a try!
Types of Fabric that Shrink
Natural fibers like wool, cotton and silk are naturally a little “curly”. They are stretched out during the manufacturing process to make the “weave-able”. This can be unintentionally undone, resulting in the garment shrinking.
Thankfully, synthetic or man-made fibers like Polyester or Rayon (with Polymers made from Petroleum-based chemical chains) are much less prone to shrinking since their fibers are created in straighter strands.
The Actual Cause of Clothes Shrinking
1. Washing them in too hot water
The heat releases tension between the weaved fibers as well as allowing natural fibers like wool or cotton, to relax and return to their naturally “curled” state.
2. The continuous tumbling inside the washing machine.
If fibers are prone to shortening (shrinking) the continuous bumping and compressing caused by the washing machine could possibly be the cause, even if the water temp is low.
This process is called “Consolidation”. The pushing and pulling of fibers inside a washing machine causes them to wrinkle up and contract, thus resulting in shrinkage.
3. Over drying them in the dryer.
Natural fibers have a high moisture content. Cotton can be 5% water and wool up to 17!
Removing this moisture is like removing 17% of the volume of the strand. Therefore “overdrying” can be equally responsible for shrinkage.
How to Avoid Clothes Shrinking
1. Buy Pre-shrunk Clothing
Higher quality garments would have been washed by the manufacturer to get any shrinking out of the way before shipping it to be sold. This costs them a little more so expect to pay a little extra for the security.
2. Check the Instruction Label
This will give you a breakdown of all the fibers used in the garment along with clear washing and ironing instructions.
3. Avoid Washing in Too-Hot Water
As mentioned earlier, the extreme heat can overwhelm the manufacturing process of stretching out the natural fibers in wool and cotton and result in them returning to their natural “curled-up” state.
4. Avoid Drying with Too-Hot Air
Sucking the moisture out of natural fibers reduces their overall length. Instead, dry in lower heat or don’t use a dryer at all.
5. Use a High-efficiency Washer
By using a high-efficiency washing machine instead of one with a center agitator, the process of washing is much gentler and the risk of compressing fibers as they tumble and roll is much lower.